This post explains New York City’s grid system of streets and avenues so you can easily find your way around on foot or by car.
The grid system makes New York one of the most walkable cities in the world. That’s why we offer so many different pay-what-you-like walking tours.
- The Grid System Explained
- Manhattan Outside the Grid
- Getting to Your Destination Using the Grid
- How to Get Around NYC
- NYC Neighborhoods Explained
- Things to Do in NYC
The Grid System Explained
In most of Manhattan (and a few neighborhoods in the outer boroughs), thoroughfares are mapped out on an easily navigable grid system of streets and avenues.
Streets and avenues run perpendicular to each other, thus streets and avenues intersect.
Both streets and avenues are numbered. Streets run east-west and avenues run north-south.
To understand the grid there are two important aspects to know:
First, 5th Avenue divides Manhattan in half. West of 5th Ave is called the West Side and, not surprisingly, east of 5th is the East Side.
Second, the grid plan exists only above Houston Street on the east side and above 14th Street on the west side.
We go into more detail about NYC streets and avenues below, and we also have a special section on Broadway!
New York City’s streets within the grid follow a predictable pattern.
On the east side, above Houston Street, the first street is, naturally, 1st Street. On the west side, the grid starts at 14th Street.
The numbered streets go all the way to Upper Manhattan, with the last street being 220th Street.
It’s likely that on your trip you won't be going any higher than West 155th Street at most, which is the northern boundary of Harlem.
Like streets, avenues are numbered… that is until they become names! Read on to find out when and why!
Avenues east of 5th Avenue
Manhattan is bounded by the East River on its east side. Starting in the east and heading west, there is 1st Ave., 2nd Ave., and 3rd Ave.
There is a 4th Ave. but only for a few blocks in the East Village. Above 14th St., it turns into Park Avenue South (which itself becomes simply Park Avenue at 32nd Street).
Next, there is Lexington Avenue (which begins above 21st St.) and Madison Avenue (which begins at 23rd St.) Finally, we get to 5th Avenue!
There are a few other avenues that are named, but they are very short and you probably won't encounter them on your travels.
South of E. 23rd St. there are four avenues beyond 1st Ave. Avenues A, B, C, and D. This is known as Alphabet City, part of the East Village.
On the Upper East Side, there are two short avenues: York Avenue (east of 1st Ave. between E. 59th St. and E. 91st St. and East End Avenue, which runs east of York Avenue. between 79th and 90th streets.
It will come as a relief that if you spend time in Midtown Manhattan, the avenues are easy to remember: 1st, 2nd, 3rd, Lexington, Park, Madison, and 5th.
Avenues West of 5th Avenue
West of 5th Avenue are 6th Ave., 7th Ave., 8th Ave., 9th Ave., 10th Ave., 11th Ave., and 12th Ave.
After 12th Ave. Manhattan touches the Hudson River.
The starting point of these avenues varies. But once you are above 14th Street they all exist and with numbers, not names.
- Both 6th and 7th Aves. stop at Central Park then start again at 110th St. with names
- 8th Ave. becomes Central Park West
- 9th Ave. becomes Columbus Ave.
- 10th Ave. becomes Amsterdam Ave.
- 11th Ave. becomes West End Ave.
- 12th Ave. turns into Riverside Drive
Just when you thought it was safe, three avenues change names again at 110th Street where Harlem begins.
The avenues that change are named after significant African-American leaders.
Central Park West becomes Frederick Douglas Boulevard and 6th. and 7th Aves. begin again and are named Adam Clayton Powell Blvd. and Malcolm X Blvd. respectively.
Don’t worry, you will get the hang of this! Just know that you aren’t losing your mind when you no longer see a number and instead see a name.
Oh wonderful, reliable Broadway! From the British colonial days through to today, its name has not changed!
It is the oldest thoroughfare in NYC and predates Dutch colonization, as it was a Native American trail called Wickquasgeck.
The Dutch developed the path, the the British further widened the street and named it Broad Way.
It runs 13 miles within NYC, from the very tip of Lower Manhattan, through the Theater District, then the Bronx. It continues another 18 miles until just north of the town of Sleepy Hollow.
Because it developed along a trail and then progressed into a proper thoroughfare before the grid system began, it runs on a diagonal.
In the below picture, diagonal Broadway (on the left) intersects with 5th Avenue (on the right), though they both run north-south.
The triangular building in the picture is the landmark Flatiron Building.
Here’s a cool fact about Broadway:
In most places where Broadway intersects with both an avenue and a street, you’ll find a green space. The major ones to know from south to north are:
- Union Square at Broadway, Park Ave. South and E. 14th St.
- Madison Square at Broadway, 5th Ave., and E. 23rd St.
- Herald Square at Broadway, 6th Ave., and W. 34th St.
- Times Square at Broadway, 7th Ave., and W. 42nd St.
- Columbus Circle at Broadway, 8th Ave., and W. 59th St.
Another cool fact about Broadway: there are a number of ways you can find discount tickets if you are planning on seeing a Broadway show!
Manhattan Outside the Grid
As we previously mentioned, not all of Manhattan is laid out on a grid.
In Lower Manhattan, (also called Downtown), beneath 14th St. on the west side and Houston St. on the east side, streets and avenues are named rather than numbered.
(You can read about some of the most famous named streets and avenues here.)
There is no system to the names, but in the days of Google Maps and smartphone apps, you should manage just fine when outside the grid.
Why aren’t all of Manhattan’s streets and avenues on the grid?
Before the grid’s implementation, roads existed. Dutch colonists who settled Manhattan as New Amsterdam created roads at the tip of Manhattan.
As the colony was brand new and still small, there was no need to consider a logical layout for the colony's roads.
In 1661, the British took control of New Amsterdam and renamed it the City of New York.
As more and more colonists arrived from England, the city grew and more thoroughfares were carved out.
These roads followed no system as they developed based primarily on land ownership or natural demarcations.
For example, in Greenwich Village, there is Minetta Street, from the Native American name for a small brook that ran through the area.
Delancey Street in the Lower East Side is named after a landowner in colonial times.
The creation of the grid system
After the American Revolution ended, New York City grew rapidly. The New York City’s Common Council understood that the undeveloped land needed to be laid out in some systematic manner if the city were to function well.
In 1807, the Council tasked three men to address this growing situation: Statesman Gouverneur Morris, surveyor John Rutherford, and New York State Surveyor General Simeon De Witt.
They were appointed “Commissioners of Streets and Roads” and spent four years devising a plan that met the Common Council’s stated goal of “laying out Streets... in such a manner as to unite regularity and order with the public convenience….”
Thus, the Commissioner’s Plan of 1811 was established. Thank goodness!
In the picture above you can see the alignment of streets in the bottom half. The top half of the photo is Lower Manhattan, the part of New York City where streets had already been laid out prior to the Grid Plan's implementation.
Getting to Your Destination Using the Grid
As explained above, Fifth Avenue divides Manhattan into an east side and a west side.
Since each numbered street has a west side and an east side, the building numbers on streets change from East to West at 5th Ave.
If you are looking for a building address, for example, 123 East 25th St, you know it is east of 5th Ave., whereas 123 West 25th St. would be west of 5th Ave.
Here's why it's important to know this. Many locals refer to streets together with the cross-avenues.
They won't say whether it's east or west. Instead, they use only the numbers.
If someone tells you “It’s on 52nd between 5th and 6th” they mean 52nd Street between 5th Avenue and 6th Avenue.
Should I Walk or Take The Subway/Taxi?
Knowing your walking pace and using the grid system can help you estimate how much time it will take to reach your destination.
When walking along an avenue, a person with a brisk pace can walk about one block in a minute.
So walking uptown from 1st St. to 5th St. will take 5 minutes.
Walking on a numbered street crosstown between avenues takes about 3-5 minutes.
For example, if you are on W. 60th Street and Sixth Avenue and need to go to E. 40th Street and First Avenue, you must walk 20 blocks south and five avenues east.
That’s approximately 45 minutes of walking at a brisk pace.